Whales Anonymous: Z-San (Part 1)

Before reading, check out our first and second interview of mobile game "whales" who play Fate/Grand Order.

We hope our talk with Z-san can fill in the full picture of what kind of person these "whales" are. Stay tuned for a full analysis of the three interviews. 


So, to start. What mobile games are you currently playing? Do you spend money on any of them? How far has that money taken you in the game(s)?

Mobile games-wise, I've been spending pretty much all my time alternating between Fire Emblem Heroes and Fate Grand Order since they came out (I'm a day one player for both in NA).

I've spent money on both so far, spending just a bit more on FEH than I have on FGO, but mostly because the former came out first more than anything. I'll likely be switching over most of my spending to FGO over in 2018 though.

As for how far it's taken me, I'd say for FEH this topic I started a while back is probably the most apt description.

I had every single unit released in FEH at the time and continued to until I believe the first summer banner releases. Summer Gaius was the first unit I didn't go for/didn't get. After that I've poked in and out of banners sparingly until I went hard on the recent New Year's banner to max out an Azura and Camilla to +10.

In terms of game completion I've completed most of what's available aside from the most recent Lunatic level Chain Challenges that came with Book 2 and Ch 15+16 and I think at this moment the Berkut infernal difficulty Grand Hero Battle's the only one I didn't complete for that. Arena Duels I'm typically within the top 100-500 weekly on Tier 20, while I'm within the top 1000-2000 in Arena Assault weekly.

As for Fate Grand Order, I'm done with all the story chapters and most of the optional interludes/free quests aside from the most recent releases with London, and I'm just farming Saber Wars for some Hearts at the moment.

I'm currently Level 120 and in terms of overall servants I have about 76 of the 85 or so available servants out at the moment. The big ones that've managed to elude me are Gilgamesh, Waver, and Drake to name a few. Jeanne's been the 5* I've gotten the most copies of (six) and she's also the one I've grailed to Level 100. Aside from that, I have another 5 servants at level 90, another 13 to 80 or higher, and every servant aside from my most recent 5-10 servants are at least first ascension and Bond Level 5. Heracles is my only servant at Bond Level 10, with Altera at 9, Jeanne at 8, and a handful at 6.

Expensive Lobster

...I'm just your typical late 20's guy with a Master's living in New York City who grew up in the 90's catching Saturday morning cartoons...

Wow, that's a pricey lobster! Are you a big Fire Emblem and Fate/stay night fan in real life? Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Indeed. The funny part is he got a rate up not so long after and I ended up getting nothing but lobsters even though I wanted some one else, haha.

I'd say for both FE and Fate I'm a fan but not on the hardcore side of things.

I got into Fire Emblem pretty recently with the release of Fates and I loved it, so I'm slowly making my way through Shadows of Valentia now as a follow up to the three Fates games. Otherwise, FEH's been a good alleyway for getting to know some of the other franchises and their characters/backgrounds, though of course it's no substitute for playing the actual games themselves.

Fate-wise I started watching the franchise with the original F/SN from Studio Deen and got interested in Fate and TYPE-MOON stuff from that. I dabbled in the original VN for a bit after that (though I haven't found the time to go through it in its entirety) and I've watched all the TV + Movie iterations of Fate since then aside from the newest Heaven's Feel movie, which I hope to catch shortly after its BD releases in a little bit. Interestingly enough, I actually ended up more invested in another TYPE-MOON franchise in Kara no Kyoukai more than anything.

Background-wise, I'm just your typical late 20's guy with a Master's living in New York City who grew up in the 90's catching Saturday morning cartoons as my introduction to anime and other related stuff. I'd rather not go into too much details about my actual profession, but the closest equivalent would be it's education-related.

I hope you get a chance to go see Heavens Feel. We've had several staff members at GamePress attend already and I've heard good things! Our other most recent interview was with a software developer who said they had disposable income to cover their mobile game spending. Are you in a similar situation? How do you feel about your spending?

Yeah, I was planning to see it in theaters, but it was during the same week as Anime NYC and a few other things last I remember, so I didn't end up going. If anything I'll pick up the BD and watch it then.

As for spending/income, I don't necessarily earn that much compared to people with a Masters working in other fields, but I do fortunately have enough disposable income to cover what I've spent so far on FEH and FGO. I spent more than expected during the earlier months of FEH as I got into the habit of spending on mobile gaming for the first time, but I balanced it out by working a little extra here and there and/or by selling some things I bought a while back, so I feel that I'm relatively comfortable in terms of balancing out my spending here compared to what I planned to and wanted to spend at this point. I did sell a few things I did quite like, but it's fine given the lessons learnt and the financial balance it gave after.

When you get down to it, it's all about understanding how much money you have available and may earn over the next year (not counting non-work based opportunities that are not guarantees or may not pan out), how much you'd be willing to spend that's reasonable and wouldn't require you to sacrifice daily necessities, and how much you want to save for a rainy day and for the future in general. Toward that end, I have a spreadsheet setup that details everything from how much money I have currently, how much approximate post-tax earnings I would have over the course of the next few months, and a list of literally everything I spend, plan to spend, or already spent on a month-to-month basis. I then set it up so there's a part that automatically calculates how much disposable income I have left to spend for the year (I allocate about 10% of my post-tax earnings as my general limit), and the spreadsheet turns a bright red if it gets close to it to serve as a reminder that I either should start thinking more carefully about which banner to roll or not to roll, and/or to consider looking for some additional opportunities/work to earn money or something of the sort. This in particular has helped me avoid rolling on many of the last few months of banners for FEH.

Aside from that, I think the big thing for me is I also spend a lot of time looking over ways to maximize the amount of stuff I can get with the money I have.

Having an eye on the iTunes Deals Twitter and buying iTunes cards almost exclusively from Costco in particular saves a lot of money, and I think that's really something that's undervalued by a lot of people. With $20 off a $200 iTunes card on a daily basis and up to as much as $35 off a $200 card when there's the occasional manufacturer's discount, the savings really add up when you know you're going to spend whale level amounts of money, and you get more bang for your buck while you're at it. For that post I linked you for FEH previously, buying cards this way saved me gave me $3500 worth of orbs for $600 less than it should've cost.

I then follow up by looking over ways to invest the rest of the money I have into high-yield savings accounts or CD's, and with interest rates slowly going up, their impact isn't insignificant, though of course you'd have to be in a situation where you have the financial flexibility to save a decent amount of your earnings in the first place. For instance, a Capital One 360 Money Market account gives something like 1.3% interest if you have 10000 put in (it drops slightly if you have less, but there's no minimum balance). It doesn't sound like much, but it gives you another $130 in your pocket every year for every 10K you manage to save up, and there's generally many of these kind of investment options available if your circumstances permit you to hold on to a portion of your income on an annual basis.

Also just to add on to my previous, it doesn't hurt to have a credit card whose points system gives you extra money for spending on stuff like iTunes or Costco either, as you can convert those into bill credits or other iTunes cards to further cut the margins.

Fate/Grand Order Homemade Cards

That sounds like a very handy spreadsheet! I'm really impressed by your rigorous detail toward savings and value. What kind of value do you put on your FEH and FGO achievements? Are Nintendo/Aniplex giving players like you enough "bang for their buck", so to speak?

Hmm, describing them in terms of value is a bit difficult, but if I had to say I do enjoy going through all the content, getting the various awards, and building up my units in both FEH and FGO.

In terms of "bang for my buck," I'd say no matter what there's always there's always going to be a loss in terms of value in this standpoint just because of how gacha is and the low drop rates for 5* in both games. In this sense we technically get less value from FGO due to their much lower percentages, but it's interesting because despite the lowered chances, I feel like FGO's beginning to offer more value than FEH to the point where my 2018 plans have shifted mostly toward spending on FGO rather than FEH.

I talked about some of my views briefly over at [link] earlier this month, but one of the reasons I feel this way is that while harder to acquire, getting that 5* or 4* in FGO goes a longer way per servant towards helping you complete content than FEH. You don’t need a top tier team filled with 5* to complete the content, and while that can be true of FEH as well, the feeling I’ve gotten is you either need to be more creative or spend more in terms of time and resources to get to an equivalent height in FEH compared to FGO, especially since higher tiers of content require more copies/merges and there’s so many heroes in the pool right now (the selections they’ve chosen to be 4* or 3* candidates also aren't ideal) that the 4 or 5* you do get may not even be one you can use or want.

On top of that, the fact that NA players are getting FGO years after the JP release means we have an exact idea of what to expect and approximately when you expect them, meaning you can plan accordingly and maximize your roll values by saving money and quartz for specific rate up events. While this of course is of no fault of FEH, it’s just an advantage that FGO has, and there’s something comforting knowing that you don’t have to worry about units being powercreeped, or at the very least, even if they are, it won’t affect you much because FGO doesn’t center its endgame around playing against other players.

On the flip side, FEH’s at a point where there’s clearly an increase in stats and skill power across the board in recent months, and you can’t be sure if a unit you spent a lot of money and resources on will get powercreeped just a few months down the line—with major potential effects on end game content like the top tier Arena Duels and Arena Assault. The fact that there’s been a tremendous amount of limited time or special banners recently also tests the ability of even whales to keep up and it’s gotten to a point where I start wondering at what point it would be better to stop rolling overall rather than trying to try and keep up with the new units, many of whom may end up being a necessity to stay competitive months down the line.

To top things off, there’s been some questionable decisions in recent events (putting only limited banner units as 40% bonus Tempest Trials units, putting Ayra on a separate banner from the rest of her game’s characters AND sharing her rate-up with an older unit, putting a story unit in Gunnthra as a paid unit to name a few examples) that while not necessarily game breaking, are negative in the sense that they increase the potential investment requirement across the board or flat out waste people’s money. The lack of non-repeated content and even oddities like certain Grand Hero Battles rarely receiving re-runs compared to others are further adding to the problems, and at this point I feel like FGO and FEH are heading in completely different directions.

We know FGO only gets better in terms of story content and unit diversity from here.

I wish I could say the same for FEH, but I just don't know. I’m optimistic they can work out the many issues plaguing it right now, but until they do, FGO’s winning the value proposition between the two right now. That’s not saying FGO’s necessarily a great value itself due to its drop rates though, and it all goes back to making sure that if you want to spend on a mobile game, it's important to determine whether or not you can afford it and if you think it's something worth spending on in the long term.

Ultimately yes, I think loot box mechanics do inevitably turn out predatory, but it depends on the situation and there's no one off solution that could prevent all cases.